If it worked for so many women in my life, why wouldn’t it work for me?
Like many brides-to-be, I left my bridal shower in April 2016 armed with a collection of marriage tips from the women who had come to celebrate my upcoming wedding. Sash still thrown over my shoulders, white tulle skirt rumpled from an afternoon of crying and mingling, I walked to the car carrying a clay canister filled with wooden spoons, each of which had been decorated by one of the guests with words of wisdom about how to maintain a happy life with my soon-to-be husband. Four of these spoons (there were 23) bore some version of that familiar saying, “Never go to bed angry.”
I’d heard this advice before. But that day I thought that if so many of my friends and family members—many of whom have been happily married for decades—considered it the single most important tip they could give me as I prepared to say my vows, I figured it was time to take it seriously.
Before we got married last year, my husband and I had been together for about seven years and shared a home for a little over one of those years. Conflict resolution had never been our strong suit. We’d successfully survived the trials of a long-distance relationship and more late night alcohol-fueled spats in college than I’d like to admit. It hadn’t always been pretty.
I came back from the honeymoon with a new resolve and excitement about making things absolutely perfect in the newer, adult phase of our relationship—marriage. We would stick to weekly date nights! We would set better boundaries with our phones! We would prioritize each other over work! And we would never, ever go to bed angry, no matter what.
The first fight came about three months in. It was petty. We both stewed in our frustration over a stupid misunderstanding for hours as we went about our individual days, and by the time we were back together in our apartment, we’d each dug in our heels so much that we barely looked at each other over dinner (for the record, we still went to date night). As our normal bedtime approached, I opened up the conversation.
“We have to talk about this now, because we can’t go to bed angry, because we said we wouldn’t do that, and I refuse to let this go until tomorrow!” I said.
My calm, patient, dependable husband looked at me thoughtfully, putting down the remote. “Let’s do it,” he said.
The conversation started quite normally. I spoke my piece. He spoke his. I cried. We made some tea. He ate ice cream straight out of the carton. I tried to explain myself again, which basically meant I repeated word-for-word the piece I had already spoken. I cried again. We both apologized, then proceeded to explain that the other person had apologized for the wrong thing. My husband began to fall asleep on the couch. I cried again. We moved the conversation to the bedroom, but I was determined. There would be no sleep until neither of us was angry. My marriage would be built on a foundation of love and absolutely no angry sleeping.
We exhausted ourselves. The conversation went in long, nonsensical circles. By midnight, the only thing that seemed more important than our anger was our fatigue. With work in the morning, we had no choice but to call it a night.
The next morning, I was more than angry. I had puffy circles under my eyes. My throat was sore from our repetitive conversations. The few hours I had slept had been restless at best. My husband and I said an awkward goodbye, and I thought about the hours we still had ahead of us before we could come back together, knowing that there would be plenty of opportunity in that time for either—or both—of us to get upset all over again.
Even with the best of intentions, my commitment to never going to bed angry had simply multiplied a problem that really had been very small to begin with. My first attempt to play by the rule had been a total failure. But I’m not a quitter. I knew there just had to be something to the conventional wisdom. And if it had worked for so many of the women in my life, I didn’t see why it couldn’t work for me.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t work for me. It didn’t in the months immediately after my wedding, and it still doesn’t now. My relationship is not built for never going to bed angry. Trying to follow this rule simply leads us down a long, frustrating road to exhaustion and counterproductive discussion. It ensures that we’ll both have a bad evening, a bad night’s sleep, and another bad day after that. Oh, and we never resolve the original argument, either.
What we’ve learned in my house is that going to sleep is actually really good for an argument. Instead of forcing an issue in the hours before bed just for the sake of killing our anger, we tend to each share our side of the problem calmly, then go to our separate corners for a little “me time” before bed. By the time we see each other the next day after work, we’ve both calmed down and can handle our disagreements productively.
If you’re in the kind of relationship that can handle things calmly and maturely late at night, you might be able to commit to never going to bed angry more effectively than we can—and more power to you. My theory, though, is that the rule doesn’t actually work for most people. Many of us don’t operate well when we’re tired. We crave the downtime that comes at the end of the day, the feeling of coming home and kicking back and taking care of our bodies. When that downtime is cut short or interrupted by a difficult conversation that seems to be happening on an impossibly short timeline, we can’t be good communicators. If you’re like me, you get emotional, and if you’re like my husband, you shut down and want to skip ahead to the part where you get to sleep. None of these factors set us up to successfully talk and get to the other side of an already sensitive matter.
Sometimes, getting rest is, in fact, the ultimate salve for anger. That’s my advice for the bridal shower jar of wisdom.